Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Call of the Wild - Review

It’s hard to imagine how the pitch for this version of Jack London’s classic novel went over so well as to get Harrison Ford to co-star opposite a CGI dog. It could’ve been an easy paycheck, a love for the source material, or maybe even some late development switch from a real pup to this version. Any number of reasons may fit, even if the CGI canine doesn’t.

Buck is a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life gets turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon in the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail-delivery dog sled team, Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime as he ultimately finds his true place in the world.

Fortunately for the film, the multiple instances of unnecessary CGI don’t completely drag it down. The heart-warming adventure story is still there, even if there are some changes from the novel, and some of the landscape and wilderness shots are gorgeous. But the constant presence of a weightless, giant dog running about always holds it back from being better than it is.

Yet, somehow, Harrison Ford manages to turn in a solid performance against a wall of green screen. Even though playing a grumpy old man is far from a stretch for Ford, he still brings something to the film that legitimizes it beyond some cheap adaptation. The rest of the performances are caricatures or so thin they’re not worth mentioning, but Ford makes the most of his time on screen, and simultaneously breathes life into an otherwise lifeless film.

The Call of the Wild is fine, the definition of a film that’s not worthy of a bad grade, but doesn’t earn a good one either. The CGI animals are distracting, whether they move in an unrealistic way or they look completely removed from the environment altogether. Harrison Ford salvages the film from completely falling flat and into that bad territory, but he can only do so much for a simplistic, forgettable film.

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